Lessons from the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Part 1: Being the best of whatever you are

This is the first in a 3-part series I’m writing this week reflecting on lessons from the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well. If you can’t be a pine at the top of the hill, be a shrub in the valley. Be the best little shrub on the side of the hill.

Be a bush if you can’t be a tree. If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail. If you can’t be a sun, be a star. For it isn’t by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are. ~ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

It is Martin Luther King Jr. Day and I, like millions of other people, am remembering and honoring his life and his work and teachings which continue to live on so powerfully.

Dr. King literally changed the world.

I don’t know about you, but I have a deep desire to create change in the world. There is so much that needs changing and sometimes when I think of  it I have an overwhelming sense of  hopelessness about what I am able – or more importantly unable – to contribute. Reflecting on the lives of people such as Dr. King used to make me feel like there was nothing I could do. After all I’m not a billionaire, I’m not a spiritual master, I’m not a revolutionary. I’m not Oprah. I’m just little old me.

However, I now understand this a little differently. I see that my contribution to changing the world begins with changing myself. With working always to be the best me I can be.

One of the most powerful lessons we can take from Dr. Kings life  is that the way in which we live our own lives is just as necessary to turning our dreams for humanity into reality as the rallies we attend and the petitions we sign.

Dr. King lived his life in a way which embodied each and every ideal he fought for – peace, justice, equality, freedom and above all, love.  He strove always to be the best HE could be, and his life teaches us that we should do the same.

He did not just fight for the highest ideals of humanity – he lived them.

He understood too, the profound connection between all people and that not striving to be the best that we can be ultimately holds humanity back from being the best it can be.

“Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”

It’s so easy to think that we are not important or powerful enough to effect change in the world when, in fact being the best version of our ourselves of which we are capable is the most powerful contribution we can make to changing the world. And we don’t need to be rich, famous, revolutionary or Oprah,  in order to do this.

We just need to be work towards being the best parents, friends, wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, employees, employers, co-workers, aunts, uncles, teachers, students, citizens that we can be in any given moment.

We need to be, as Dr King said, the best of whatever we are.

So I challenge you to ask yourself  if you are being the best of whatever you are in your life and if not to consider one small thing that you can do differently today and beyond in order to move yourself closer to this ideal.

  • Ellengails

    Be the best of whatever you are.

    This is and these words are from a poem by Douglas Malloch

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